Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Reading

“The Good War”? — Adam Kirsch looks at how time has changed our perceptions of World War II and other conflicts.

The passage of time doesn’t just turn life into history; it also changes the contours of history itself. Over the last several years, historians, philosophers and others have begun to think about the Second World War in challenging and sometimes disturbing new ways, reflecting the growing distance between the country that fought the war and the country that remembers it. As always when history is debated, the stakes are not just the past but the present and future as well. Even as the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have made Americans less confident about the ways we use our military power, the struggle with the Axis remains the classic example of American might deployed for virtuous ends. President Obama had that history in mind when he explained his decision to intervene in Libya’s civil war: “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” Obama said. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.” Even today, World War II helps underwrite our claim to that moral difference.

Americans’ favorite World War II stories have always been about the democratic heroism of ordinary soldiers; this kind of popular history has never disappeared, and probably never will. Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” (2010), which has resided for months near the top of the best-seller list, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an ex-track star turned airman, who was shot down over the Pacific and survived weeks adrift on a raft and even worse ordeals in a Japanese prison camp. As the title suggests, Zamperini is an untroubling kind of war hero, because his greatness was his refusal to break, not his ability to break others — a part of the soldier’s job that is far less comfortable to read about. Zamperini was a bombardier on a B-24, and at the very time he was being tortured by the Japanese, other bomber crews, made up of men no better or worse than he, carried out “Operation Gomorrah” — the weeklong raid on Hamburg, Germany, that in July 1943 killed some 40,000 civilians and destroyed virtually the entire city. Can we make room for that story, and others like it, in our memory of World War II? And if we do, can we still keep our pride in a “good war”?

More below the fold.

After Thirty Years — The AIDS epidemic is a part of our lives.

As AIDS nears its 30th anniversary on June 5, there is both hope and concern.

“Advances in antiretroviral drugs have been the spectacular success story of the past 20 years,” says Dr. Mario Stevenson, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “They’ve changed the face of AIDS on the planet.”

Ron Cox, 44, of Wilton Manors, who at 28 watched his lover die in part from AIDS-related muscle-wasting, has fought back from his own HIV diagnosis to live a relatively normal life, down from 40 pills a day to seven.

“I’m not a quitter. I’m a body builder,” he says. He works out regularly and can squat-lift 250 pounds.

But for Dale Penn, 54, of Miami Beach, who has been HIV-positive for 20 years, the concept of premature aging strikes a note of recognition. He used to be a high-powered commercial lender for big New York banks, but now says “to get up each day and know I have the energy and brain-power to solve complex problems is no longer feasible.”

As research continues, doctors say an absolute cure remains elusive.

“It’s unclear if we can get a real cure any time soon,” Dr. Tae-Wook Chun, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, told a Miami symposium in April.

The new research comes at a time when HIV patients are so well-controlled that many believe any crisis is over. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that, while 44 percent of Americans in 1995 saw HIV/AIDS as the nation’s most urgent health problem, only 6 percent felt that way by 2009.

That upsets Charles Martin, executive director of the South Beach AIDS Project, which counsels patients.

“We’ve come a long way, but people still die. I lost a friend the other day,” he said.

For all the successes in controlling HIV, it remains a resilient enemy. New cases in the United States peaked at 160,000 in 1985 and plummeted to 40,000 by 1991 as potential victims learned to take precautions. But it has been stuck at that number ever since, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carl Hiaasen — Democracy remains elusive in Florida.

According to a new Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters, Rick Scott is now one of the country’s most unpopular governors, a dubious feat after only four months in office.

It’s bad news for Republican Party bosses, but all is not lost. Scott recently signed a new election bill that is callously designed to suppress voter turnout, making it harder for many disgruntled Floridians to cast a valid ballot in 2012.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, so GOP leaders are desperate to find ways to keep certain people away from the polls. One of the Legislature’s top priorities was to change the voting rules to avoid a repeat of 2008, when Barack Obama won the state’s 27 electoral votes on his way to the presidency.

Obama benefited from early-voting days, which proved popular among minorities, college students and retirees. Republican officials became incensed during the election when then-Gov. Charlie Crist — one of their own — decided to extend polling hours to accommodate the long lines.

The nerve of that guy, making it easier for common citizens to vote!

Determined not to let this whole democracy thing get out of hand, the GOP-held Legislature crafted a bill that reduces the number of early voting days from 15 to eight, and requires some voters who have moved to cast provisional ballots, a deliberate inconvenience aimed at students.

Historically, provisional ballots are counted at a much lower rate than regular ones, meaning many young voters won’t get heard — exactly what Scott and the Republican leadership want.

The new bill also throws out a rule that had been in effect for 40 years allowing Floridians to update their legal addresses when they arrive to vote. Now you can only do that if you moved within the same county.

To hinder community groups that register first-time voters, the law requires volunteers for organizations such as the League of Women Voters to register with the state as if they were sex offenders.

Upon signing the anti-voting bill into law, Gov. Spaceman said the following: “I want people to vote, but I also want to make sure there’s no fraud involved in elections. All of us as individuals that vote want to make sure that our elections are fair and honest.”

Those who recall what happened here in the 2000 presidential election can’t help but chuckle at the comic aspect of a Republican governor pretending to fret about voter fraud.

Interestingly, the officials who are most familiar with the fraud issue — the county supervisors of elections — are mostly opposed to the new voting law, and say current voter-data bases are fairly accurate. They actually asked the Legislature for more early-voting sites, and were of course rebuffed.

The statewide association of elections supervisors also warned Scott that imposing the restrictive provisions could cause a fiasco at the polls in 2012, just what we need to reinforce our national reputation for electoral dysfunction.

When the governor promised to bring all those new jobs to Florida, who knew he was talking about lawyers?

Doonesbury — Mad edgy?